Sunday, January 25, 2009

YA Weekend

I don't know, I've had some good alliteration going with Mystery Monday, so I thought I'd try YA Weekend since I have several to post.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
I'd come across this book in a few different places, and I'm so glad I picked it up in the last post-Christmas gift-card-fueled trip to Borders. This is an unusual coming-of-age tale, a chronicle written after the events that unfold in the narrative, giving witty, insightful foreshadowing that made the events themselves even more delicious to read about. Frankie Landau-Banks, privileged sophomore at a posh boarding school, has always tried to be sweet and accommodating, but something snaps when her boyfriend, coveted senior Matthew, blows her off one too many times to hang out with "the guys." Frankie wonders if Matthew actually respects her, or if he most values her adorable sweetness. After some basic surveillance, she discovers that he's a member of the Order of the Basset Hound, the very exclusive, all-male secret society to which her own father belonged. After giving Matthew several openings to tell her about the Society, she decides on a different tack: infiltration. The "disreputable history" that follows this decision is brilliant, funny and subversive, as Frankie turns the lax Society into a real secret society, performing pranks she learns from the disreputable histories of the Bassets and other secret societies, infusing the beer-drinking, cigarette-smoking group with a mission of social commentary and changing outdated traditions.

Lockhart's snappy writing and Frankie's appealing earnestness make this book a delight to read. I couldn't wait to find out what happened, but I also didn't want it to end. Frankie is a complex heroine searching for her place in the world. By the end of the events chronicled here, she is well on her way to finding out the kind of person she'd like to be. She's gained perspective on tradition, vandalism, exclusivity, and social norms, and she makes us think about them, too. What traditions are worth keeping? What social rules should be respected and which should be challenged? Frankie's search for answers is satisfying and wickedly funny.

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell
I had a hard time getting into this book. It does have an appealing, noir-ish feel, but the heavy foreshadowing (along with overdone 1940s slang) felt clunky to me, and by the time the events foreshadowed were clear, it felt anti-climactic. The first several chapters were filled with foreshadowing and mood, but little else. I didn't really get to know the heroine (if that's the right word), Evie, so she wasn't enough to pull me through the obvious, though mildly interesting, intrigue. Evie's stepfather comes home from WWII and promptly begins a successful business venture. After a few calls from an "army buddy," he drags the family to Florida, where they meet up with a nice couple, the Graysons (the woman takes Evie shopping; the man may have a business proposition for Evie's stepfather) and Peter, the very "army buddy" they left New York to avoid. Evie (who is 15, mind you) promptly develops a crush on 23-year-old Peter, who reveals the truth behind her stepfather's activities in the war. Eventually, Peter and Evie's parents go off on a boat trip together, just before a hurricane strikes, and the obvious happens, giving Evie a big decision to make. The subplots with the Graysons and Wally seemed more convenient than anything else, and I wasn't thrilled with the ending. I'm giving this three stars for the well-established period mood and discussion possibilities.

Note: The Disreputable History... had a National Book Award Finalist sticker on it, so I looked up what the winner could possibly have been. I was shocked to find that What I Saw... had won. To me, there is no contest between these two coming-of-age stories, so I'm mystified by the outcome of the awards.

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